October 16, 2018
Great things He has done... In our last update, we shared the great things that God had done over the course of the past year of ministry at the clinic in Boiffo. Three weeks later, government reforms closed a majority of private health centers in Benin, including our own. The impact was immediately felt and a cry rose up from the surrounding population including our regional politicians and community leaders. One such leader stated that closure of the clinic meant the opening of the cemetery. For over a month we worked tirelessly to find a way to comply with new government regulations. The reforms are intended to improve healthcare for the overall population and protect them from ongoing abuses. We were caught in the middle because of the principle reform which required a Beninese physician, not tied to any government health center, be employed as director of the clinic. After countless hours of phone calls, meetings and visits to government offices, including multiple visits to the nations ministry of health in Cotonou; we came to realize that we did not have a way to comply with the reforms and maintain the integrity of our ministry. We began praying for a miracle and leaned heavily upon the political leaders of our region. After over a month of waiting and pressing our case, God moved and doors opened in a way that can only be explained by divine providence. On Wednesday evening, Colin received a call from our regional director of health services giving permission to re-open the clinic under his authority. He shared that he spent a sleepless night after visiting our medical center and considering the great needs of our region. He described the closure of our ministry as an unfortunate and unintended consequence of the reforms. Our staff and missionaries are once again at work caring for the needs of the local population and sharing the gospel with passion and conviction. We apologize for not sending updates sooner but frankly we have been under a lot of pressure and carrying a heavy burden.
The timing of visits to the ministry of health coincided well with Colin’s visit to Cotonou to teach Christology and participate in the graduation of 4 more students from the pastoral training program. Dr. Steve Nunemaker and several students apologized for pulling me away but in fact the opportunity to open the Word daily and teach came as a great privilege and relief in the midst of a heavy season of administrative responsibilities.
A heavy season... It has been another challenging season in northern Benin. Alongside of the local crisis in healthcare came an overabundance of rain. Many of the principle routes of our region became impassable. The bridge to our main source of supplies in Malanville collapsed turning the city into an island that was only attainable by canoe. Entire villages were flooded and vacated.
At times, even the road to Boiffo where our missionary colleagues live was compromised by heavy rains. On one such day, I abandoned my vehicle on one end of the impassable road and had Dr. Steve Boutrus transport me from his side to teach a weekly theology class to the clinic staff. During this season two pastors we work with lost children. We have made an inordinate number of visits to bereaved families this past month underscoring this very difficult span.
Things are looking up... It was a blessing to our team to have Chris and Diane Marine, currently serving as V.P. of Missionary Care with FBM, out for a month-long visit. Chris was able to work with Joe Marshall in rebuilding the engine to our D3 bulldozer. Just in time to do clean-up from rainy season disasters! He also helped with wiring the new studio/guesthouse that we are remodeling and built door and window frames for the project. We are sorry to see them go and working on a plan to bring them back out again soon!
This letter is coming to you from Niamey, Niger. One of our Bibles International language consultants, Glenn Kerr has arrived to help us work through Zechariah, Ezra, a number of Psalms and a review of OT quotations found in the NT. Thank you for your continued concern for our family and ministry team here. It is evident that God is at work and responding to your ongoing and faithful prayers.
August 15, 2018
Important milestones... Over the course of the past year missionaries and staff at our medical center in Boiffo, Bénin have been working hard to meet the physical and spiritual needs of a desperate population. The clinic was inaugurated one year ago. As work progressed we began to assess and evaluate progress and results from our efforts which begin nearly 6 years ago. The results demonstrate that God has been doing a great work in our midst. The clinic has helped more than 7,000 individual patients this past year and logged more than 12,000 patient visits. With a small, 13 member staff in place and working daily to meet healthcare needs, a number of significant goals were reached. Most importantly, thousands of individuals heard the gospel through our daily evangelistic outreach. Several individuals made professions of faith, others renewed their commitment to Christ. Doors were opened to accommodate new church planting activities and relationships were developed with key leaders including government officials, village chiefs, witch doctors, law enforcement officials, and Islamic leaders.
Comings and goings... there has been a lot of traffic through Guéné and Boiffo recently. Our summer Intern, Tim Dahlhausen has returned home from two months with us. His time here proved to be very valuable; building relationships with our young people through sports ministries, sharing from the Word in a variety of situations, and demonstrating a willing spirit to engage with a variety of ministry tasks. Our family and missionary community enjoyed having him as a part of our lives. We miss having him lead worship for us on Sunday evenings!
Another important goal was sustainability. The clinic managed to pay staff members and purchase medications and supplies with funds generated locally by the medical ministry. Not only was the daily function of the clinic supported by local funding but several small scale construction projects and improvements were also made without the need for outside funding. Additionally; funds are being set aside monthly for future expansion of the facility, scholarship of future personnel and a compassion fund to assist those who are unable to afford medical care. Gifts through the mission were used to purchase high-cost specialized equipment (i.e. x-ray machine, electronics etc.) which enhanced the overall ministry offerings of our center.
We praise God for the great work that he has done. We also give thanks for Dr. Steve and Katrina Boutrus who have worked tirelessly training our staff and ministering to patients needs. The success of this work has hinged very closely upon the efforts of the Boutrus’ and our staff as they partnered together. We are also grateful for the continued impact of GDMM missionaries and medical personnel who have continued to make scheduled visits to assist with training and mobile medical clinics. The past two weeks a small group led by the director of the mission, Bryan Bell and medical director, Dr. Chuck Hurlburt came to offer assistance once again. Currently the president of GDMM, Dr. Jack Mitchell is in Boiffo training staff in dental care and caring for patient needs.
Translation progress... We are very happy to have recently received copies of a recent printing of the books of Genesis and Matthew in Dendi. The printing was funded through a source connected with Bibles International. In just a few weeks we anticipate the arrival of a consultant from BI. Our upcoming consultation will cover the books of Ezra, Zechariah, a portion of the Psalms and a revision of key Old Testament citations found in the New Testament. We intend to begin recording an audio version of the NT in Dendi sometime late next year.
Our schedule does not intend to slow down anytime soon. We are in the middle of a major remodel of a structure on the Guene station that will be revamped for guest housing and use as a recording studio. Colin will be teaching a module in Cotonou in September, followed by a graduation ceremony for a group of students there. We ask that you not let up on your prayers and intercessions on our behalf!
May 10, 2018
Greetings from the Congo! We are currently in vacation mode. The miserable heat of Benin in May is many miles away and we are enjoying the temperate climate of Lubumbashi. After a few days camping with family, Colin began teaching a Survey of the Old Testament. The 5 day, 25 hour block course was for a group of over 30 ministry leaders from local churches in the region. A highlight of the week was catching up with Teena’s uncle Dan Grings who visited from Kinshasa. This week we are enjoying time with Seth and Darla Curtis and the kids are having a great time with their cousins. In this update we hope to share some of the many activities that have taken place since we wrote last…our calendar has been full!
Time has passed quickly since we last wrote. Bible school, medical teams, interspersed building projects and a very productive Bible translation consultation with Joshua Hedges of Bibles International have kept us moving. Wrapping things up to catch our flight south of the equator was like watching for light at the end of a tunnel.
Earlier this year we enjoyed having Tom Ovenell come for a visit and practice chiropractic in the clinic. His daily schedule was grueling but rewarding. Chiropractic is very hands on and he returned home sufficiently wiped out each evening. The results were varied; some individuals experienced relief from back or neck pain. One of our pastors regained full use of his arm after several months of suffering from a pinched nerve. Some came hoping for a miracle, but left smiling because the appreciated the compassionate care and the educational experience. We were very sad to see Tom go.
Shortly thereafter, we enjoyed a repeat visit from Walter and Carol Loescher and Tracy Boutrus. The Loeschers arrival gave Dr. Steve and Katrina Boutrus a very valuable break in the action to fly to Greece for a vacation/continued education conference with hundreds of other missionary medical practitioners. Dr. Carol and Tracy headed up the ministry at the clinic while Walter helped with various ongoing projects.
There are always projects to be completed. It seems before we complete the ones in progress we are already planning new ones! Recently we were able to complete a storage addition for the clinic as well as a designated space for medical staff to escape the flow of patients in the clinic for meals and rest. Joe Marshall replaced the water storage tank that sprung a leak 25’ atop the water tower. Most significantly, we finally were able to complete the first and most important phase of the dormitory for the students in Malanville. One of our Bible school graduates, Abdoulaye Namata and his wife Djamela are currently ministering as dorm parents from the church facility in Malanville.
Abdoulaye graduated from our 4 year Bible training program this past March. This was our second graduating class. We now have 23 graduates from the Bible Institute. Next Spring we anticipate graduating 6 from our women's program as well as 2 more of our men. It has been a very busy season for training ministries. In addition to teaching and coordinating our regular program in Guéné, Colin traveled to Cotonou to teach a group of pastors and church leaders a course in Genesis. Steve and Julie Nunemaker coordinate the training program in Cotonou and once again traveled north to Guéné to teach and encourage our student body. We are grateful for the team of missionaries and pastors that we continue to partner with in various aspects of ministry.
A lot has happened to report in this short update! We are ever grateful for your prayers and ministry support. Keep an eye on your inbox in the weeks to come as we lay out some of the exciting things that are coming together through our ongoing discipleship/training ministries and that of our medical and evangelistic outreach.
February 5, 2018
In our previous update we highlighted the challenges that we have had of late with internet and communications. Some of these issues have been resolved, others persist. Currently we are in Niamey, having returned Teena’s parents, Steve and Ruthann Bell to the airport and picked up Colin’s brother Tom Ovenell. The improvement in internet here in the city allows us to catch up on vital communications and reflect on how to report what God has been doing since you last heard from our family. One of the most remarkable events was the celebration of Christmas with over 80 individuals in our small church in the village of Kouberi. We shared a meal, watched a special video presentation and enjoyed the day together. At other churches in our area similar services were held and hundreds of people heard the gospel message through the ministries of faithful Dendi believers.
Shortly after the holiday season our first medical team of the year arrived. Dr. Jack Mitchell, assisted by his wife Jennifer returned once again to resume training of certain staff members in dental hygiene and extractions. Dr. Chuck Hurlburt, a member of our clinic board of directors and two experienced nurses, Tracy Boutrus and Ellen Doyle also returned to give a boost to the clinic ministry and offer further education to our staff. Special meetings were held to evaluate the progress of the medical ministry and evaluate certain benchmarks. It is exciting to report that the clinic has already achieved a remarkable level of financial sustainability. More importantly the primary objective is being met…the spread of the gospel to the local population. Thousands have heard of Christ through the ministry of our medical staff and evangelists and have experienced a compassion that is found no where else outside of the body of Christ. Patients from far away and from several adjacent countries have come to receive treatment. Please pray for the continued development of our medical ministries, for future growth and expansion and for an effective communication of the gospel resulting in the transformation of individual lives, families and even an entire region and culture. Pray also for the safety of our medical staff. We are currently on alert for another outbreak of Lassa fever. Lassa fever is similar in nature to Ebola which occasionally ravages the underdeveloped parts of Central and Western Africa.
While Teena’s schedule doesn’t allow her to interact directly with the medical ministry in Boiffo she has enjoyed ongoing contact with mothers and caretakers of orphaned and malnourished children. Recently we experienced a shortage in formula supply and are grateful to be able to stock up once again here in the capital. From time to time she is also called into the village to follow-up on patients, providing wound care and other medical assistance. One such case was a woman who had an unexplained infection spreading over the lower portion of her leg that had nearly become fatal. Her family have now been introduced to Christ and have seen his transforming power in our lives. Pray that these and others would turn and follow.
For the past two months we have been blessed to have Teena’s parents working alongside of us in the ministry. Teena’s mother was a great help with our children and in assisting with hospitality while her father took over on a number of projects that I was glad to have off of my plate. His skills as a carpenter have become renown in the area and his willingness to always set aside his work to share the gospel with others has come to be expected. As a highlight for our family and ministry team he shared from the Word for our Sunday evening worship services.
To round off the events of these past weeks, Bryan Bell is currently editing and preparing footage for a video production to be used in the clinic setting highlighting the testimonies of our staff and believers from diverse language groups in our region. Bible School is once again in full swing and phase one of the Malanville dormitory project has nearly come to completion. God is working in our hearts and lives and in those around us. We are ever grateful for your prayers and support in this ongoing work.
December 6, 2017
Below is our most recent prayer letter. After numerous attempts to send it over a poor internet connection we gave up. Only the print edition was delivered. We are currently in the capital of Niger, picking up Teena's parents, restocking, and taking care of business. The information below while dated, is still relevant to your prayers on our behalf. Read on!
This Thanksgiving week we have a great deal to be thankful for. This year Teena and I celebrated 15 years of marriage, 10 have passed since we arrived in Bénin. At times we have thrived, other times we merely survived, but God’s gracious hand has been evident throughout. Our children, our most precious investments have mostly thrived as well. Ethan survived a recent altercation with our antelope which left him crippled for the better part of a week after suffering a deep puncture wound behind his knee. Eliana seemed to be sick more often than healthy for a good part of late summer and fall but has returned to good health. Elias is as energetic and mischievous as ever and never seems to slow down.
Communication is crucial for successful relationships, ministries, and just about any human interaction that one could imagine. Having said that you are probably wondering why it has taken more than two months for us to send an update! Once again we may be guilty of overly adapting to our surroundings and losing track of time. It is the tyranny of the urgent that seeks to overtake our lives and cause us to respond like fire fighters turning in every direction in reaction to whatever seems most pressing. At the present moment we are responding to the imminent threat of the loss of our telecommunications company in Bénin. We have been informed that the government is demanding excessive fees and taxes that were not in the original contract and the company is refusing to comply. They have built up the communication network in this country and now they are being punished and threatened with expulsion. The CEO of the company will be leaving tomorrow (Friday the 24th) as persona non grata. As a consequence the only other remaining cell phone and internet company will inherit a network that they are likely unable to manage well or sustain. Our access to internet has deteriorated in the past several weeks due to a waning desire on the part of the phone company to invest in maintaining a product that is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain due to the excessive demands. We expect that things will get worse before they get better.
Unfortunately miscommunication and abusive communications have been a recent part of ministry here as well. Two key churches that refuse to work together, generally choosing to compete rather than collaborate. Several key leaders that have either been offended or offended others breaking down relationships and hindering the flow of gospel ministry. Selfishness, gossip, lies, and pride seek to tear at the progress that is being made. Attacks on key individuals seem almost strategic in nature. These are not new circumstances, nor have they been foreign to the life of the church historically or here in Bénin, but we have seemed to experience heightened tensions here lately on the field.
Ironically, the challenges that we face are often signs that things are progressing well. Our enemies, Satan and the world are actively seeking to sideline individuals, families and even entire ministries because it has become apparent that lives are being transformed and the gospel is going forth. The clinic has been operating for three months now and it has been a phenomenal success. Not only has the ministry had a great impact on the health of our region but a growing number of individuals have placed their faith in Christ as a direct result of the open door. The decision to follow Christ has been costly for a few of these individuals who have faced opposition and even beatings. One of these individuals showed the doctor the stripes on his back from the arrival of four thugs who came to persuade him to abandon his newfound faith. He prefers to avoid alerting the authorities for fear of reprisal against other members of his family.
Joe Marshall has completed set-up of the vocational training center adjacent to the clinic in Boiffo. Bible Studies and literacy classes are ongoing in our home and in various other homes and local churches in the region. Our translation team completed the NT revision so that we can soon begin recording an audio version. Projects at the clinic are ongoing as we respond to the most pressing needs of a vibrant work. God has been so good to us and to the people with whom we live and minister. Thank you for your part in keeping things on track here in Bénin!